On July 5, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Taiwan's removal from the list of SARS-affected areas, thereby indicating that the collective efforts of the government and people of Taiwan to combat SARS had been successful. The people of Taiwan could finally resume their way of life.
Although the WHO was very late in announcing this news, this does not mean that Taiwan's effectiveness in combatting SARS ranked last in the world. Actually, in comparison with other countries, Taiwan brought SARS under control within a relatively short period. Taiwan's rapid and effective response to the epidemic was also remarkable. Because of China's political interference, Taiwan became isolated in the international campaign to combat the epidemic. We faced the SARS attack on our own and encountered more difficulties than other nations did. With confidence and perseverance, however, we finally accomplished our difficult task.
As we enter the post-SARS era, we should be aware of the following issues.
First, the spread of SARS gave rise to a period of collective panic in society and seriously slowed the pace of the nation's economic recovery. Its influence was both wide and deep, surpassing even that of the 921 earthquake in 1999. But in the last few months of battling against SARS, the people realized that only by demonstrating love and concern for others could they ultimately be victorious. Only if all people rallied together and cooperated could the difficulty be overcome.
Second, the SARS crisis made the people more aware of the Chinese government's true nature as a bully. China suppressed Taiwan and repeatedly spread lies about it in the international arena. China violated the Taiwanese people's basic right to health and blocked the country from participating in the WHO. And China forcibly isolated Taiwan outside of the world's public-health system and adopted a cruel and arrogant stance that seemed to say, "Who cares about you Taiwanese."
Third, although Taiwan hoped to gain a seat at the World Health Assembly (WHA) by making concessions such as classifying itself as a "health entity" or an "observer," its humble requests were still rejected. As in the past, politics overrode everything else in China's response. It says Taiwan is part of China and lacks the qualifications to participate in the WHO.
Beginning next year, our government must take the position that Taiwan is an independent sovereign nation and apply for full formal membership in the WHO. We should not only emphasize the right to proper healthcare. Even more importantly, we should emphasize that Taiwan is an independent sovereign country that is not governed by the PRC. The more China suppresses Taiwan or tries to diminish its stature, the more we must staunchly insist that Taiwan is an independent sovereign country.
Fourth, the recent storm over SARS caused the people to feel the real meaning of gemeinschaft -- ie, that anyone, regardless of ethnic background, who identifies with Taiwan as his or her country is Taiwanese. The people must not create internal divisions between themselves and instead should work together and encourage each other. We must maintain and strengthen a healthy attitude toward life and good habits of hygiene, thereby transforming the painful experience of SARS into a new beginning for the country.